Sunday, June 21, 2015

South Carolina: It's Time to Take It Down

Dear South Carolina Governor & Legislators,

I was born in Charleston.  I'm a daughter of the South.  There's a city in Spartanburg County -- Landrum, SC -- that was named for some distant relatives of mine.  And my direct ancestor fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy.  My family owns land in the South that was passed down for generations, land that once we enslaved other people on. 

I understand heritage. I understand heritage is complicated.  I understand we have to remember the bad of who we were, and the hard times, along with the good of who we are, and the good times.  I understand that lives were lost and lives were changed, and the Confederacy and the Civil War continue to shape us.  I understand that we can't forget the past, nor do I want to.

I understand heritage.  I struggle with mine, celebrate mine, mourn about mine, live with mine.  Heritage is complicated.

But flying the Confederate flag doesn't represent my heritage, which goes back generations before and continues generations after the Confederacy.  It could only represent a thin slice of heritage at best.  But this symbol doesn't do even that.  It doesn't even truly represent that slice of time -- it's not the flag that flew in South Carolina during the Confederacy, it's the battle flag of another state.  It's not something that's been there, flying over or in front of government buildings, untouched, since that time. It's a symbol that was brought back into our public spaces by the resistance to the Civil Rights movement, a symbol that was brought back for reasons of hatred and racism.  It's a symbol that's been used and abused by the KKK.  It's a symbol that might seem to say "heritage" for some small percentage, but says "hatred" and "oppression" for so many others.  And it has no business on our public lands and flying over our government buildings. 

It's time to acknowledge that this symbol was put up for the wrong reasons, it's the wrong symbol, and it's time for it to come down.  It doesn't truly represent heritage.  It represents a hate that has no place in our government any more.  It represents a time when we acted wrongly, fighting against voter registration and glorifying a time of slavery. 

To truly respect our heritage, to truly honor it, we have to also be willing to honor the truth -- the complicated truth that there were things our ancestors were wrong about, and there were things they chose that we can't applaud.  My ancestors had honor and love and a number of good virtues, I'm sure.  But my ancestors drove Native Americans off their land, and then on that land my ancestors enslaved African Americans.  That's not something I want to wave a flag proudly for.  It's not something I want to forget, either.  But honoring and respecting heritage means understanding this complexity, that not all was good, not all was admirable, and not all was what we want to carry forward.  I might have German ancestors, but flying the Nazi flag wouldn't honor heritage, it would honor hate.  Flying the Confederate flag doesn't honor the complexity of heritage -- it shouts a message of oppression.

And one thing that clearly we need to not carry forward at this time in our country is a symbol that speaks of hatred, of oppression, and of slavery.  We need to not have symbols that glorify racism and oppression as part of our government and its buildings and sites.  The symbol needs to be placed in its proper context, and that is purely historical.

It's time to take down the Confederate flag.

Sincerely,
Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum